The countdown to this year’s Pearl Diving expedition begins with a special “Shouna & Habab” celebration — a ceremonial preparatory maintenance of the dhows before they set sail for pearling, planned at the Kuwait Sea Sports Club Tuesday. A few days preceding the start of the 25th AlGhous Pearl Diving festival expedition to the island of Khairan, parents, friends and family members of the divers are set to converge on the staging port for the expedition at the Sea Club to witness a special ceremony involving the preparation of the dhows for the trip.
The ceremony normally involves preparing special traditional concoctions or pastes called “Shouna” that are used for caulking the cracks in the dhows that had been left for the past year at the mercy of the elements. Before then the beached dhows are scrubbed and cleaned in a process known as “Habab”. These two processes are normally carried out in a ceremonial atmosphere with the divers who normally number about 200, singing and performing traditional Kuwaiti sea songs, beating drums and hand clapping.
Aside from the divers and their supervisors, veteran divers also occasionally show up at the ceremony as mentors to the pearl diving team in the advanced stages of their preparations for the final expedition. One such veteran actively participating in the event was 77-year-old Ibrahim AlFailakawi who passed away recently. He made it a point to always be present as a mentor of the team. A selected group of the divers prepare the Shouna. They make fires using wood and melted vegetable fat in a large drum. The heated fat is then poured into tin bowls containing gypsum powder, and the mixture stirred into a paste. The beached Dhows are then scrubbed and cleaned in a process called Habab. On the cleaned body of the boats the Shouna is applied using plates for waterproofing from the rudder to the waterline. The Shouna is then allowed to dry.
After weeks of training, the pearl diving crew is set to embark on the much awaited journey to Khairan on Thursday where they hunt for Pearls. The week long expedition, Aug 15-22, will see the team rake through the waters around the island in search of pearls.
The expedition replicates the exact manner Kuwaitis in the days gone by gleaned the waters in their attempt to eke out a living. On the day of the team’s departure, parents, family members and friends congregate at the Sea club to bid them good bye. The team is joined again in Khairan by family members for the grand celebration where the team’s pearl haul is showcased to the public amid pomp and pageantry.